Kingsman: Bringing the Gentleman Spy out of Retirement

The Gentleman Spy has been taking a bit of a vacation from film of late. Even James Bond, one of the iconic examples of the trope, has been taking a leaf out of Jason Bourne’s book lately, and on the whole most modern spy films seem to prefer the darker, more serious approach. Kingsman: The Secret Service, on the other hand, is a film that asks what happened to that colorful fellow, and sets out to be a gloriously entertaining tribute to the colorful, campy, totally over-the-top spy movies of yesteryear.

The film follows the story of Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), a British street punk whose life is going nowhere. Despite his excellent grades, acrobatic skills, and good nature, Eggsy is without a direction in life and gets into trouble when he steals a car to get back at his mother’s abusive boyfriend Dean (Geoff Bell). Eggsy finds himself unexpectedly bailed out of jail by a tailor named Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who is actually a member of the Kingsmen, an international spy organization operating independently of any government and at the very highest level of secrecy. Eggsy’s father was once Harry’s protégé, but was killed while training to join the Kingsmen in the process of saving Harry’s life, and Harry means to repay the debt. Seeing potential in Eggsy, Harry puts him forward as a candidate to fill the position of the recently-deceased Kingsman Lancelot. While Harry looks into the circumstances of Lancelot’s death and gets onto the trail of the misanthropic billionaire Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and a plot to eliminate most of the human race, Eggsy embarks on the harrowing testing process of becoming a Kingsman, befriending a fellow candidate named Roxy (Sophie Cookson) and struggling to show both his elitist competition for the spot and the test overseer Merlin (Mark Strong) that he has what it takes despite his lower-class background.

Kingsman makes no secret of its nature as a loving nod to campy spy movies. Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson have some back-and-forth banter about their mutual enjoyment of old Bond movies, and Jackson plays Valentine as an amusingly self-aware Bond villain, complete with quirks (in his case, being afraid of blood and talking with a lisp), a ridiculous amount of expendable goons, and an absurdly over-the-top world-spanning plan to kill most of the human race through a rage-inducing mind-control signal in his cell phones…in an effort to stop global warming. Kingsman has a lot of fun in that it’s not afraid to be ridiculous and campy and creates a wild contrast to the bloody, brutal, “gritty” combat in modern spy movies with its unabashed use of flashy gadgetry, bizarre weaponry (an umbrella-gun and bladed prosthetic legs feature prominently) and extremely stylized, over-the-top, and immensely satisfying violence. It’s a ridiculous movie, but the good kind of ridiculous where you laugh rather than roll your eyes, and the fight scenes are a blast, particularly my personal favorite scene in the movie in which Colin Firth joins in a massive brawl in a thinly-veiled parallel to the Westboro Baptist Church and proceeds to clean house while barely mussing his suit. The acting and dialogue in Kingsman satisfies as well, with Colin Firth and Mark Strong in particular turning in good performances and Taron Egerton performing well as a rough around the edges but very likable hero. Samuel L. Jackson also deserves credit for playing a very amusing and eccentric villain, and it’s clear enough he’s having a lot of fun hamming it up as a Bond villain.

All in all, I rate Kingsman: The Secret Service 8.5/10. I’m a fan of movies that pay tribute to a genre with some affectionate ribbing mixed in, but Kingsman also stands up on its own merits as a very fun movie in contrast to the sometimes rather intense and grim spy flicks that surround it. It’s the perfect movie to unwind after you’ve had a long day and want to blow off some steam with some laughs and very cathartic violence.

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